The full motion video has found the perfect home: horror games

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It would be easy to think that the full motion video is obsolete.

The full motion video, often shortened to FMV, is a previously rendered or recorded scene that is divided into a game, rather than being rendered by the game engine in real time. The use of full-motion video once allowed developers to insert images into a game well beyond the reach of their graphics engine. For example when Final Fantasy 7 I needed to represent the massive Midgar scale, I didn't use the raw graphics in the 1997 game, I used pre-rendered FMV.

(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPKKUHC2-Hk (/ embed)

Of course, this explanation paints on large extensions of the history of the format. Arcade games like The dragon's lair he built semi-receptive worlds from full animated motion video by hand and an underground stream of FMV titles like Erica or Sam Barlow Telling lies It showed that prerecorded video content can still be gamified in a convincing way.

But when today's games can approach graphic quality levels that were previously exclusive of scenes rendered as a movie between interactive segments, is there any advantage in narrating the dramatic changes in aesthetic FMVs that were once known?

2019 Devotion He gave us an irresistible answer: yes.

And especially in horror games.

Change the mood by changing the medium

DevotionThe story focuses mainly on a girl, Mei Shin. Encouraged by her family, Mei Shin participates in a television singing competition, competing against other children for an opportunity for fame. We return to the competition again and again throughout the game; Virtually all the tragic events in history go back directly to this situation. And to take home the narrative importance of this performance, Devotion it does a full visual aberration.

An old television shows an image of a person singing

Image: Red Candle Games

While everything else in the game is built into a game engine called Unity, the singing contest is, well, real. It's a fuzzy VHS-style recording of real actors on real stages with a real girl singing with all her heart. It is a striking contrast, one that Devotion It is played by placing the FMV on a TV built with graphics in the game. It seems that the game is challenging you to question its reality. What is on television even in the same reality as the scant furniture of everyday life in this apartment in Taipei?

(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTYRWUVip-I (/ embed)

This essay on the new home of the full motion video in horror games was written as a complementary piece of the previous video, also created by Jacob Geller.


The aesthetic disparity acquires a sinister tone in the context of the game's history. Mei Shin confesses that he really doesn't want to act on television. She just wants to make her father, Feng Yu, happy and knows how much this means to him.

Even when Mei Shin gets sick with symptoms clearly resulting from her anxiety, Feng Yu refuses to recognize that getting her out of the spotlight could be the right thing to do. By using full motion video, we begin to understand what motivates it. For Feng Yu, televised performance is more real Than your daily life. As such, he is willing to make any sacrifice to keep his daughter in the spotlight.

DevotionThe fragmentation of reality reminds me of another game that used full-motion video to question the reality of the game world almost two decades ago: Silent Hill 2.

A scruffy man looks in a dark mirror

Image: Konami

One of the most indelible images of the PS2 era is the first shot of Silent Hill 2. The protagonist, James, looks deeply into a mirror. His eyes are dark pools, his hair greasy, the mirror is covered in dirt. For a second, the game is far from reality. Of course, the lighting and texture of this scene are far beyond what PS2 could represent in real time. Silent Hill 2The first shot is a full motion video, nothing created in the game engine.

The human face is a notoriously difficult subject to process in CGI. There is a reason why Pixar's first movies showed toys, insects, fish and monsters; Few things make the audience feel more uncomfortable than a strange representation of our own form.

But Silent Hill 2The character designer, Takayoshi Sato, threw himself headlong into that mysterious valley. The game's videos feature close-up shots of characters of realistic proportions that do little more than have a quiet conversation between them. Often due to their technical limitations, they are deeply disturbing. And because of the horror of this game, they job.

For all its monsters and darkness, Silent Hill 2 It is a story of introspective horror. Unraveling the tangled knot of guilt and James's duel takes the whole game. All the time, just like DevotionRadical changes in aesthetics challenge our perception of the character. Is the "true" James the low-resolution model we control on the streets of Silent Hill? Is he the strange gloomy figure present in the pre-rendered sequences of the game?

Or can we only meet James from the secrets we learn from a lost VHS tape, a tape that reveals the boiling darkness just below the surface? It's no accident that we start with James looking at himself in a dirty mirror; The game refuses to give us a clear picture of him.

Silent Hill 2 frequently blinds the player with these visual changes too. You could be in the bowels of a hospital, or stumble into a historical society, open a door and immediately find yourself in a pre-rendered video. More than once, I actually jumped when the game started a pre-rendered scene. Nothing, not even the basic aspect of the world, can be trusted for a long time. Reality, and how it is presented to the player, has proven to be somewhat fluid, and the game reminds you of that as soon as you start to forget.

While the obvious purpose of the full motion video is to attract players to a deeper game, Devotion Y Silent Hill 2 do the opposite: they force us to confront the artifice of what we are playing. The protagonists of these games have a deep insecurity. Its reality is tearing apart, and the visual contrast between the graphics of the game and the FMV makes this conflict literal.

Decades ago, game developers might have wished that the entire game matched their FMV; indeed, Final Fantasy 7 The 2020 remake looks light years beyond the pre-rendered scenes of the original. But ironically, as the graphics improve, my appreciation for FMV inconsistencies has only increased. In a medium that often falls prey to repetition, they are a truly unpredictable element. They challenge the way we perceive these virtual environments.

Even in AAA space, FMVs are being used to highlight the instability of a space. In Control, live actor recordings complete the nebulous background story of The Oldest House, projected on the walls or resonating from old televisions. If you're lucky, you could even watch an episode of "Threshold Kids", a completely strange children's show with real puppets (?) Filmed. While the characters of the FMV show cry for their dead mother or visit the friendly “Uncle Mr. bones ", only takes home the inscrutability of ControlThere are many mysteries.

With horror, these visual digressions can make the entire fabric of the world feel unstable. Consistency is safe. Radical leaps in appearance and aesthetics? That's dangerous.

After all, how can we feel safe if we can't even trust our own eyes?

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